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'Stop hiring Indonesian maids directly'

Jakarta says lack of records makes it hard to contact next-of-kinin crisis
The Straits Times - February 6, 2013
By: Amelia Tan
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'Stop hiring Indonesian maids directly' Unlike employers who hire their maids directly, agents in Singapore and Indonesia are required to update the Indonesian Labour Ministry's online database with the personal particulars of every Indonesian maid they recruit. -- ST FILE PHOTO

THE Indonesian government wants Singapore employers to stop hiring maids directly, as the absence of records can make it hard to contact their domestic helpers' next-of-kin in an emergency.

Indonesian Embassy counsellor Sukmo Yuwono told The Straits Times that Indonesian Labour Ministry records show that about 36,000 - or 30 per cent of the 120,000 Indonesian maids in Singapore - were hired by employers who did not engage agents.

These 36,000 maids had either completed their two-year stints and decided to renew their contracts, or found their first job in Singapore through recommendations of friends.

Mr Sukmo said agents in Singapore and Indonesia have to update the Indonesian Labour Ministry online database with the personal particulars of every maid they recruit as part of licensing conditions for maid agencies set by Jakarta.

Such details include the maid's home address in Indonesia and contact information for her agents in Singapore and Indonesia.

However, employers are not bound by these requirements, and do not update the embassy with these details.

Mr Sukmo said having access to these facts is crucial when the maids are in trouble and the embassy needs to reach their family members urgently. He cited a case last year involving an Indonesian maid who died of a heart attack in her employer's home.

Her body was not claimed from the mortuary for three weeks as her employer was travelling abroad.

The maid had been recruited directly. Mr Sukmo said: "If she had had an agent, the agent could have helped to collect her body and send her home. And the family would not have had to wait for such a long time."

He said Jakarta will enforce this new requirement by getting Indonesian immigration officers to step up checks. They will ask the maids to show their employment contracts, which have to be signed by agents from Indonesia and Singapore, before they leave the country.

Employers interviewed are unhappy with the new ruling, as it means having to fork out more money.

Many opt to hire maids themselves to avoid paying service fees to agencies, which come up to about $100 for a maid who is renewing her contract, or up to $1,600 for someone working here for the first time.

Housewife Esther Law, 45, said: "This is just another way to ensure that Singaporean and Indonesian agents earn more money."

Agents welcomed the news as it means more earnings for them.

But they are sceptical as to whether employers will comply with the requirement, as laws here allow employers to take on maids without going through agents.

The agents pointed out that in recent years, the Philippine government has also tried to make it a must for Filipino maids to engage agents when finding work abroad. But there are still Filipino maids who land jobs here through their personal networks.

Nation Employment managing director Gary Chin said the new policy will benefit maids as it means the embassy will be able to turn to their agents in Indonesia or Singapore to render help.

Mr Sukmo also said Singapore should get a steady supply of Indonesian maids by June.

The Straits Times reported last year that the supply had dropped as Indonesian recruiters had stopped sourcing for workers to protest against a new cost structure for maid recruitment that was introduced by Jakarta.

ameltan@sph.com.sg

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